National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander has defended the U.S. spy agency’s surveillance programs at the Black Hat security conference on Wednesday.
“Read the Constitution!” one heckler shouted at the 61-year-old four-star general as he responded to polite but tough questions selected in advance by conference organizers.
“I have. So should you,” Alexander shot back, triggering sustained applause.
Alexander’s comments in Las Vegas did not go beyond those he previously gave before Congress and at other public appearances in the past two months. He argued that the NSA surveillance programs helped disrupt more than 50 “terrorist-related” plots but said he supported wider discussions on how to balance national security priorities with privacy rights.
According to Reuters, Alexander, who is also in charge of the U.S. Cyber Command that handles military cyberspace operations, said the NSA initially examined only several hundred phone numbers, then looked outward to see who else those people had spoken to.
His tone was mostly conciliatory, though he asserted that allegations of indiscriminate eavesdropping by the NSA had not been borne out by a Senate committee investigation, internal audits or reviews by administration officials.
“We get all these allegations of what they could be doing, but when people check, like the intelligence committee, they found no times” that NSA internet surveillance had been willfully abused, he said.
Alexander also said the vast majority of countries have similar “lawful intercept” programs and the NSA’s version was an unusually good model because it was subject to U.S. court review, albeit in secret.